Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Great Virginia Rail Trail Blitz 2014

Intro:   I'm not sure why I conceived this route.  A hodpodge of pavement, gravel, single track with the main goal of hitting the two longest rail trails in Virginia.  It could either be a great route through some of the most scenic places in VA or it could be just that, a hodpodge route with no real flow.  I had a great time,  I was challenged and pushed a little beyond my reserves, and don't recommend trying this at home, again, or ever..... 

Day 1: Virginia Mountain Bike Route.

 After spending time with the in-laws, for and early thanksgiving dinner ( the wife gets to work Wed-Friday nights over Thanksgiving),  I saddled up and headed out the newly established Tinker Creek Greenway into Carvins Cove.  A fun little 2-3 miles of single track, leading up and over the ridge down to the reservoir on the other side.  It was cold and overcast.  I was  a little under dressed for riding around the cold lake, but knew that once I got away from the water, I would be ok.  I stopped at the main office to pay my $2 use fee and was on my way. 

I stayed on the main gravel road,  passing by miles of single track for the sake of time.  Today's goal was 80 miles with impending rain this afternoon. 

 I have heard rumors and tales of the Virginia Mountain Bike Route.  The word is that Chris Scott from Shenandoah Mountain Touring is working with several of his close friends to develop and map the route.  I wait semi-patiently for that map and details.  But in the meantime,  I came across Pedaling Nowhere and was able to find some key details to keep my route interesting.   

I joined the route in Catawba and followed very scenic backroads through the hills of VA.   I reached 460 near Blacksburg, and headed west, I missed the first left and dropped over the ridge into the valley.  I was hoping that I would find the FS road at the bottom, because I didn't want to make that big climb back up the ridge.  

At the bottom, I not only found the FS road I wanted, but also the Poverty Creek Trail which is part of the VAMTB route.  Holy cow, that was fun.  I forgot where I was and what I was doing.  Riding smooth buffed out single track, while the clouds threatened to let loose the rain, with a full bike packing load=  fun times. 

After the single track and then some gravel road,  the pavement started.  Nothing exciting, but just means to get to another section of off road.  

I stopped in the town of Dublin,  after riding through the historic town of Newbern.  Hotel for me tonight, which was a great choice to get out of the rain that I had been riding in for the past 4 hrs.

Day 2: New River Trail. 

The day started bright and warm and the sun would shine on me all day.  The smooth crushed gravel rail trail would provide enough of a challenge though, so I was glad it was warm.  After the previous day's rain,  the gravel bed was saturated making the trail soft.  Soft enough that it took me 2.5 hours longer than when I road it previously in the dry spring.  

Today was an energy sapping grind.  I had planned on the short 60 mile day to provide some respite, in order to recover from yesterday's 80 miles and to rest for tomorrow's 80 mile day.  

But the weather was great, and the trail scenic as usual, so I ground away, mile after mile.  Enjoying the scenery and the solitude,  I realize how much I enjoy being out here, and am thankful for a wife who gets it.  We discuss these trips often and I always make sure that I am balancing family time with ride time.  

Water at Foster Falls

12 to go,  I could take a nap.
Great Views

Sorry Rich D.  I didn't save any to share.
 I finally ground my way to the end of the trail, moved into my hotel room and got some food at Macado's. 
Day 3: Virginia Creeper Trail (plus 50 miles of crappy pavement)

I couldn't sleep.  I tossed and turned.  I could not figure out why.  So I watched some news,  Ferguson, good grief.  I finally fall asleep around 3am.  So much for getting rested. 

I have to be on the road by 7:15 in order to meet the wife and kid in Abingdon 80 miles later.  I start pedaling.  I had asked several locals if the 58 west route that I had chosen was a trucking route.  They all assured me that I would be fine.  I spent the next 40 miles dodging trucks on the narrow 2 lane road.  I kept a sharp lookout and whenever one of the fire breathing behemoths approached from behind, I would quickly dive into a driveway or pull off waving them through.  They had a job to do, and I wanted to be overly courteous.  Those drivers have a tight community and lookout for each other,  I was hoping that with a kind gesture, word would travel through CB land and they would return the favor.   I guess it worked because I didn't get crushed. 
 I rode the 1/2 of greenway in Independence VA.  A small town.  I bought a 6 inch Subway for later, and stopped at Aunt B's for a biscuit.   The ladies thought I was amazing (what else is new) and were all interested in my trip.  They were worried that I didn't have enough clothes though.  I lingered a few minutes enjoying the small country town vibe, and relishing the fact that there was nothing "gourmet", "craft", "hip" or "lumbersexual"  about this place.   I love small towns and can even add a little twang to my speech to fit in a little better.  Although with this face, there is no way to fit in.  ( as evidenced in Galax by the cop in the unmarked car follow me around town....). 
 The rest of the day was a grind.  I wanted to enjoy it more, but was spent from the day before.  I ground away at the pedals, dug too deep and made it to the creeper trail, barely.  I ate my Sub and drank my Coke, enjoying the warmth of the sun for a bit.  I pedaled on and realized that the food had not made a dent in my hunger.  With 25 miles of Creeper trail to go, I kept nibbling on food.  I finally stopped and dug out a Pro Bar Meal bar and chewed on that.  It gave me what I needed to make it,  finally to the end.  Another 80 mile day.  I arrived right on time. 

The wife and kid picked me up and hauled my spent carcass home.  We spent some time 30 minutes from home at a cold dark rest area, while my body tried to regulate itself....Oops.
 It was great to be able to light a fire and rest in my own bed. 
I'm glad that route is done, and I don't feel the need to ever connect these two rail trails again!  And I don't recommend trying this route at all.  Next time, I'll be taking the VAMTB route!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Something Out here

It was cold.   The sun was dropping below the horizon, leaving the cloudless sky slightly pink in hue.  I laced up my running shoes and closed the back door.  Easing down the steps, out of the gate,  letting it close gently behind me.  To my back, the fading light.  In front of me,  half a mile of pavement, then trail.  Darkness closed in slowly.

I run gently,  warming slowly.

I take a deep breathe and rn past the neighbor's houses into the trail.  I exhale and can see my breathe,  faintly frozen in the cold night air. 

I listen to the crunch of leaves under my feet.  The noise falls silent when I come upon a rocky section of trail,  hopping from rock to rock, before stepping onto the crunchy leaves again.

It was great to be out.  After a long day of work and taking care of the family,  it was nice to be alone.  Not really thinking about anything in particular.  Just being right here,  right now.  Deep breath, exhale,  step, step, step. 

I enjoy running.   Its good to switch gears and do something different,  set different goals.  I enjoy seeing things that I miss while on the bike.  The pace is so much slower.... what's that?  I stop and listen.   I hear something near the trail.  Silence.  I start running again.  Thinking back on the meeting earlier,  it was good.  Good people doing great things..... another noise.... a deer?  I take a couple of steps as if I'm going to start running.  I stop suddenly.   There is definitely something out there. 

I start running again.  The beam of my headlamp piercing the darkness, lighting the trail.  I sense something large,  making it's way through the woods beside me.  Silently moving along. Something large, yet gentle.  Only an occasional crackle from a leaf, or the subtle snap of a twig.  I glance sideways, trying to catch a glimpse but see nothing.

I continue running.  I'm not afraid.  I don't sense danger.  I sense curiosity,  maybe a touch of loneliness.    Whatever it is,  if it wanted to do me harm,  has had the chance.  My curiosity is peaked.  I continue to run.  My adrenaline spikes each time I hear the subtlety of the creature running beside me.

As I run into a contour and take a sharp turn,  its seems I surprise it,  I can feel the heat from it's body,  close enough to reach out and touch it.  I refrain, and continue running,  saying nothing. 

I stop suddenly.  It stops in unison.  I stand still and listen.  I hear a slight breathing,  just one short half breathe... then silence.  It is cold,  and quiet.

I turn to head back home.   As I begin the return journey,  I sense the being still running,  no, not running.  Moving beside me.  I make the turn down the access trail back towards the neighborhood and suddenly know that I am alone again. I'm content, and curious.  Unsure of exactly what I just experienced, but thrilled to have experienced it.

There is something out there....

(I decided to give a go at some fiction.  This story came to me over the past couple of trail runs.  I hope you enjoy).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Here I Go Again

The Road Ahead

Well,  its the day that marks my birth.  My birthday!  42 years old and in my prime.  When I was a kid, I thought that life would be over by the time I was 40.  My dad told me I would have a pot belly (like his) by the time I was 25.  Because of the examples of adults around me, and because of the things I was told,  I really thought that things would slow down around 40. 

The first 6 months of 40 were rough.  I remember them well.  Awaiting the impending doom.  It never happened and I went on to accomplish some cool things,  have some awesome adventures with my family  and friends,  and plan new adventures. 

Now, I've reached 42 and I'm in my prime.   I feel good, I look good (seriously?)  and look forward to more adventures.  In fact,  I'm planning about 3 in my head as I sit here and type!   I can't stop!!

Last week, I attempted my Big Birthday Ride.  300 miles of gravel and pavement through Western NC on the Blue Ridge Mountains Loop.   I failed to complete the loop, but realized that through this failure,  came the determination to keep on trying.  I have learned over the years to look at the big picture, and while the failure to finish was disappointing,  I refuse to let that stop me from coming back and trying again.  (if the route was crap,  I would move on to something else, but I've got a treasure in the works!)

Anyway,  year 42 and here I go again.  Another year for adventure,  for getting to know friends; old and new.  Another year for hanging with the wife and kid.  Another year of coffee!!  Yeah!  Get you some!!

Have a great day.

Friday, November 14, 2014

No Regrets

 No regrets,  really.  I'm glad I attempted this route.  I'm glad that I failed, because through this failure, I learned that I have a deep desire to succeed.  I've always told the kid: "Sometimes you have to do things differently, but don't give up"!  

I think it would have been epic, if I had gone out and ridden the route the first try,  but it would have been a different adventure.  So many what  ifs and could've beens.   But,  this is the adventure I had and I'm glad for the experience. 

And man,  if I'm not ready to give it another go.   I have to wait though, for the right time.  Highs today around 35, means 10 degrees colder up on the gaps that the route crosses.  That's weather for someone on a fat bike....
Now, I'm poring over maps again,  looking for more adventure,  streamlining my process and lightening my load.  

This time of year I typically carry all of my camping gear.  Shelter, sleeping bag, pad, ground cloth stove, fuel and meals.  I never use them.  I just carry around bunch of dead weight to fulfill my fantasy of camping out somewhere,  like I used to do.  Maybe I'm getting to old for that crap,  but when I hit a town and have 80-100 miles under my chain,  the easy thing to do is opt for a hotel and a pizza.   And why not?  For some reason, I have felt the need to be "hardcore".  To prove that I can be that much more self sufficient.

And,  I really should look at reducing my daily mileage on some rides!  How about go for 70-80 miles instead of 90-100 per day?  I'm not quite in race mode yet,  again,  maybe if the temps were warmer, I could pull into the woods for a couple of hours of sleep.  But when its cold,  the hot shower and warm bed are soooo nice!

So, here  goes.  I'm looking at maps and lightening my load.  I'm losing several pounds of weight and going bare bones.  Can't wait to see what happens!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Blue Ridge Mountains Loop- 1st attempt

 142 miles of gravel and pavement,  Asheville to Hot Springs...

 I had planned to do this ride later in the week and invited the general public to join me.  Patrick McMahon was the only one who was able to get a few days off of life.  Unfortunately, I was not interested in riding this loop in the looming "polar vortex/arctic outbreak"  so I canceled the group ride and headed out on my own with enough time to finish, before the cold temps set in. (I really hoped that Patrick would still do the ride)
 The Blue Ridge Mountains loop is a project that I am working on, inspired by the Allegheny Mountains Loop.  I'm hoping to make the loop in the 300 mile range and squeeze in as much gravel road as sensible while making a fairly straightforward route.

I rolled out, but I wasn't feeling it.  I couldn't put a finger on what exactly was wrong, so I pushed forward.  Fighting the clawing, nagging feeling that I should go ahead and turn back, go home, sit by the fire, laugh with my family.  I really wanted to complete the loop and get the info out, so I kept riding.

The first 50 miles I spent arguing with myself.  I cannot say how many times I almost turned around and went home.  After that,  my mind was occupied with figuring out how long it would take the wife to rescue me.

I simply was not having fun, but I knew that most times, when I have felt like this, the following day is way better.   So, I pushed on.

 After getting a late in the day start: High Noon,  I made it to Hwy 215 at 5:30pm.  I still had to climb 215 up to the BRP and then down into Waynesville.  Easy peasy right?  Wrong.  It got dark and quiet.  I pushed on,  its so good to be stubborn.  Little victory #1.

The stars were amazingly bright and I tried to focus on that instead of my misery.  The upside?   For the first time ever,  I wasn't scared of the blackness that surrounded me.  I have no idea why, but there I was, in the middle of nowhere, with an occasional car passing,  in the dark of night, and I was comfortable.  Little victory number 2.

I made it up and over the top, descending into the desolate valley below.  And then it got bone chilling cold.  I pulled out some extra layers, but the next couple of hours into Waynesville had me shivering, sometimes uncontrollably.   And I was missing out on some of the best scenery.   I was tired too.  I wanted to pull over into the woods and crawl into my sleeping bag.   But the stubbornness persisted and I rode on.

I finally made it to Waynesville and decided to stop for what was left of the night.  I got a room at The Lodge.  It was a decent hotel on the nicer side of jenky, and only $50.  Personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut and lights out at 11pm.

I had called the wife to let her know that I was done.  I was going to sleep in and call her in the morning to formulate and extraction plan.

I went to sleep....and woke up at 4:43am.  Dang it.  I tossed and turned,  determined to go back to sleep.  Fail. 5am,  I got up, decided that if I was up and couldn't sleep, I'd have the energy to keep riding.  Packed up and Mc Donald's for breakfast with a biscuit and a couple of apple pies for later, I hit the road at 6:28am.

The stretch of pavement leading to the gravel road through the Cataloochee Valley  was long and uneventful.  I can't remember how long it took to get into the woods again, but close to an hour.  And then I was climbing.  

I came around one corner and there was a deer standing in the middle of the road, cross legged, cross eyed and drooling.  Crap,  a rabid deer. I asked the poor animal if I could get past and she sauntered over to the shoulder and down the side of the mountain. 
 Gravel roads extended in front of me and I wish I could say that I cruised.  I didn't.  I wanted to sleep.  But I couldn't.  I had to keep riding.  I thought  about a lot during the next couple of hours.  I thought about how I could shorten this route a little bit,  make it more manageable for weekend warrior types.  Of course, if I did that, people like Eddie O'dea would finish it in 12 hours.....  I wondered why I always feel the need to take everything to the limit.  I have trouble doing things half @$$.   I should work on that.  Chill out a little.  Maybe shoot for 70 miles per day instead of 100.  What was I thinking? 
 I rode on.  When I got to FS 288/ Buzzard's roost,  I decided to start making changes to my original route plan.  I'll update these later, but I turned right, for what turned out to be a really fun gravel road ( all the while realizing that if something happened, it would them them that much longer to find me...).  Winding in and out of contours.  Mostly down with some mellow ups, all the way down to the river, I-40 and across to Harmon Den. I passed some Duke Power guys doing tree work,  asked them if there was a Starbucks nearby,  we all chuckled..
 After seeing the sun for about 30 minutes early this morning, the rest of the day was misty, breezy and downright chilly.  The weather put an additional damper on my spirits, but I was determined....and hopeful.  I ate, drank and rode on,  but there was simply no snap in my legs. 

 As the miles dragged on, and the hours went by,  I started to realize that, if I were going to reach my next destination,  I would be out after dark again.  4 hours after dark.  That would put me within striking distance of finishing on day 3, but I didn't have the energy to ride until 9pm.  I also didn't have another day to spare, having to get back to real world responsibilities.  I fought the urge for a long time, but finally, when I reached Max Patch Rd,  I made the call for pick up. ( I was surprised that I had cell service).

 I was done.  I know my limits and I could have pushed on, but I could have pushed too hard.  I might be stubborn,  but I try to balance that with common sense.  I simply was not having fun with this go round.  I made the call, and the wife gladly agreed to come pick me up.
 I refused to let this get me down.  I had accomplished a lot on this trip.  I rode 140 miles in 26 hours.  I rode in the dark of night without fear.  I refused to let my urge to go home stop me from trying.

I made it a little less than halfway but I consider my ride successful.  I can't wait to get back out and do it again ( not this week).

This route is challenging, scenic, and gives a great taste of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I met some great people out there.  The bear hunter who slowed on Hwy 215 to ask if I was ok.  The guy at Pizza Hut, encouraged by my trip.  The waitress at Still Mountain Restaurant and Pub,  who let me hang out while waiting for my ride.  I learned about myself, challenged myself.

I'm really excited about this loop because it will be  a great "training" ride for longer routes, as well as a perfect distance for beginner bikepackers.  The route could also be done fully supported for the more laid back tourist types!   

 I'm looking forward to a couple of warm days so I can get dropped off to complete the scouting of the second half of the loop. And then riding the whole thing.....
Long live long rides!

Thursday, November 06, 2014


 I've been in a bit of a funk lately.   I finally remembered/figured out why.  Its November.  Its a couple of months worth of traditional holidays, when family members typically get together to eat, stress and be merry..... 

Even so, I miss those times.   And then I realize that I am not the only one.  Personally, unresolved issues and a confrontation gone bad are a hindrance. 

But, I'm not the only one in a similar situation.  For whatever reason, death, divorce, distance and so on,  people around me are hurting.  Missing something. 

As I rode around in the woods, listening to the creatures preparing for winter,  I wished that there was something I could do, or say to help you,  to support in some way.  I was at a loss.  Maybe that's good.  Feeling helpless can be good,  it causes one to pause and reexamine motives. 
 Sometime we just need a hug.  Other times, someone to talk to,  or even someone to sit next to. 

If you need something, let me know.  I'll do what I can to help. 
One thing that helps me this time of year, is to get outside on a daily basis.  I challenge myself to ride or run for a minimum of 40 mins.  Amazingly,  every time I go, I feel better, and usually want to stay out longer.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

N Mills Ride

 I got out with Jamie, Jason and Joe for a quick ride in N Mills River.  I was dragging, but wanted to take advantage of the warmth in the air. 
 The creek was cold, the air was warm and the trails were fast.  I'm learning to let go of the brakes a little bit and that resulted in a couple of overshot turns. 
These guys had ridden Couch Potato and Swank, so were feeling it.  That was fine with me.

I love where I live!